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Posts Tagged ‘overtime’

To Bonus or Not to Bonus? Departing from the FLSA, the California Supreme Court Clarifies Calculation of Overtime Including Flat Sum Bonuses

Posted on: April 16th, 2018

By: Christine C. Lee

Calculating the correct overtime pay rate for non-exempt employees just got a little more complicated for California employers who elect to pay bonuses.  In the recent case of Alvarado v. Dart Container Corporation of California, plaintiff Hector Alvarado, a non-exempt warehouse worker, was paid a flat “attendance bonus” of $15 per day in addition to his hourly rate if he worked a full shift on a Saturday or Sunday.  Because there was no California statute, regulation or wage order directing how employers should calculate the rate of pay for overtime purposes when such non-discretionary flat sum bonuses are paid, the employer, Dart Container Corporation of California, followed the methodology set forth in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Dart calculated the overtime pay rate by taking Mr. Alvarado’s total earnings in the relevant pay period, which included the attendance bonuses, and dividing that figure by all hours worked in the pay period including overtime.  Using this figure, Dart paid Mr. Alvarado 1.5 times this rate for every overtime hour worked.

To thank his employer for the bonuses, Mr. Alvarado sued Dart in a wage and hour class action alleging Dart miscalculated the overtime rate of pay.  He argued Dart should have divided the period’s earnings and attendance bonuses only by the amount of non-overtime hours worked which would have resulted in a marginally higher overtime rate of pay.  In support of his position, Mr. Alvarado relied on the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s (DLSE) Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual which states that when employees earn a flat sum bonus, their overtime rate is determined by dividing the regular and bonus earnings only by the regular non-overtime hours worked during the relevant pay period.  The case reached the California Supreme Court for guidance.

There, Dart argued because its formula complied with the federal FLSA when California law gave no guidance, its methodology was lawful.  Dart also argued the DLSE Manual was merely an underground regulation and interpretation of the law and therefore was not entitled to any special deference.  The Court agreed the DLSE manual was not entitled to special deference.  Nevertheless, the Court held “[W]e are obligated to prefer an interpretation that discourages employers from imposing overtime work and that favors the protection of the employee’s interests.”  The Court found Mr. Alvarado’s method was “marginally more favorable to employees” and should now be the law of California.  To add further ambiguity to its ruling, the Court cautioned this methodology only applied to non-production related flat sum bonuses and not necessarily to production-based bonuses such as piece rate or commission-based bonuses.

Dart requested only prospective application of the Court’s rulings since California law had been unclear up to that point.  The Court refused the request, leaving Dart on the hook for 4+ years’ worth of unpaid overtime, penalties for inaccurate wage statements, penalties under Labor Code §203 and California’s Private Attorney General Act, and attorney’s fees and costs.

The unfortunate result of this decision is that employers may stop bonusing non-exempt employees and/or flee California to avoid this kind of catastrophic litigation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Christine Lee at [email protected].

 

Back Where We Started: Service Advisors Once Again Are Exempt From Federal Overtime Requirements

Posted on: April 3rd, 2018

By: Brad Adler & Michael Hill

After years of back and forth in the lowers courts, the Supreme Court has ruled that service advisors at auto dealerships are exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  It’s the rare case that goes to the Supreme Court twice.  But after taking the scenic route through the federal court system, the Supreme Court’s Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro decision finally has arrived and brought much-needed clarity to auto dealerships across the country.

As we have written in several previous blogs, the confusion began in 2011, when the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) suddenly (and without explanation) reversed its decades-old position that service advisors were exempt from the FLSA.  The text of the statute at issue provides that “salesman . . . primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” at covered dealerships are exempt.  Since the 1970s, courts and even the DOL itself took the position that a service advisor was such a “salesman.”  In 2011, however, the DOL threw a monkey wrench under the hood by issuing a new rule that “salesman” under the statute no longer would include a service advisor.

This ruling from the Supreme Court, however, applies a straightforward interpretation of the statute’s language and holds that a service advisor is a “salesman . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.”  According to Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the majority’s opinion, “servicing automobiles” includes more than just working underneath the hood of a car.  “Servicing” is a concept broad enough to encompass meeting with customers, listening to their concerns, suggesting or recommending certain repairs and maintenance, selling new accessories or replacement parts, following up with customers as services are performed, and explaining the repairs and maintenance work to customers when they come to pick up their vehicles.

The Encino Motorcars decision also brought back a special souvenir for employers in other industries.  In reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court expressly rejected the oft-quoted principle that exemptions to the FLSA “should be construed narrowly.”  It now is the Supreme Court’s view that, because the FLSA does not actually say its exemptions should be interpreted narrowly, “there is no reason to give [them] anything other than a fair (rather than a ‘narrow’) interpretation.”  As there are over two dozen exemptions just to the overtime-pay requirement of the FLSA, Encino Motorcars may provide some ammunition for employers fighting exemption disputes in the future.

For questions about this case or how it may impact your business, or other questions or advice regarding wage and hour laws, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

Congress Steps Into Tip-Pooling Fight

Posted on: March 23rd, 2018

By: Timothy J. Holdsworth

We wrote previously about the background on the tip-pooling regulations and the DOL’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPR”) that would allow tip-pooling arrangements that include employees who do not regularly and customarily receive tips under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The DOL received a considerable number of comments on the NPR, some of which worried that the NPR would allow employers to keep their workers’ tips.

Buried in the spending bill Congress passed (pages 2025-2027 if you are dying to read it) is a rider that will affect the current U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) laws on tips. The bill proposes language that prohibits an employer, including managers and supervisors, from keeping tips received by employees. This prohibition would apply regardless of whether the employer takes the tip credit. The rider also would make employers liable to employees for any tips unlawfully kept by the employer.

If the bill is signed by President Trump, these may substantially affect any tip-pooling arrangements employers planned to enact under the NPR. It is also unclear if the DOL may try to revise the NPR in any way.

The provision would also subject employers to new liability under the FLSA. Just last year, the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) in Malivuk v. Ameripark, LLC held that the FLSA does not authorize an employee to sue her employer solely for an employer allegedly withholding her tips when the employee does not allege that she received less than the minimum wage or less than what she was entitled to for overtime work. The rider creates a new cause of action solely for withheld tips.

If you have any questions about what these potential changes may mean for your business or would like more information on navigating wage and hour laws, please contact Tim Holdsworth at [email protected].

Governor Wolf Proposes New Overtime Rules for Pennsylvania

Posted on: February 20th, 2018

By: Christopher M. Curci

Employers may recall the Obama administration’s efforts in 2016 to increase the overtime rule salary exemption from $23,600 annually to $47,476 annually.  By way of background, employers are required to pay overtime to employees who work over 40 hours in a given workweek.  However, many “white collar” employees are exempt from the overtime rules if their salary is above the $23,600 annual threshold.

The Obama administration’s proposed changes in 2016 caused quite a hubbub, finding strong support from pro-employee groups and strong opposition from pro-business groups.  Ultimately, the proposed changes were struck down by a federal court and the Presidential administration turned over to President Trump, largely mooting the issue.

However, Pennsylvania employers should be aware that Governor Wolf recently announced a similar change to Pennsylvania’s wage and hour laws as part of his “Jobs That Pay” initiative.  Governor Wolf’s proposal calls for increasing the salary exemption to $31,720 annually in 2020, $39,832 annually in 2021, and $47,892 annually in 2022.  Thereafter, the salary threshold will continue to increase every three years.

The Governor’s office estimates the proposed changes will increase the wages of 460,000 workers in Pennsylvania.  While the proposed changes have not yet been passed and would not take place for some time, employers should always be aware of the potential for significant change in wage and hour laws.  It is important that employers plan well in advance for such significant change to manage their own business finances and avoid costly wage and hour violations.

Christopher M. Curci, Esq., is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey Labor and Employment Attorney and member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section.  He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law.  If you need help with this or any other employment issue, he can be reached at [email protected].

Are We There Yet?: Auto Service Advisor Exempt Status Under the FLSA Makes Return Trip to the Supreme Court

Posted on: November 28th, 2017

By: Will Collins

Last year, the Supreme Court narrowly avoided a collision with the question of whether service advisors at car dealerships are exempt as “salesmen” under the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, as Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro returns to the Supreme Court, the case is poised to squarely address this issue and, hopefully, provide much-needed clarity.

As previously discussed, the Supreme Court sent the Encino case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the exempt status of service advisors, instructing the Ninth Circuit to give no deference to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulations providing that service advisors were not exempt.

After considering the case on remand, the Ninth Circuit still held that service advisors do not fall within the FLSA’s exemption for “salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles.” As a result, the Supreme Court will again consider the exempt status of auto service advisors and all indications are that the Court will resolve the discrepancy between the DOL regulations, the Ninth Circuit decision, and prior decisions by the Fifth and Fourth Circuits.

After a long road of uncertainty, many are hopeful that the Supreme Court will provide clarity when it finally resolves this issue. As the case is scheduled for oral argument in January, we will continue to monitor the case and provide an update of any developments.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Will Collins at [email protected].